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WHAT'S FRESH : BUYING OPPORTUNITIES : Summer Squash : These delicately flavored members of the gourd family are plump, ripe and ready for harvest.

June 07, 1990|PEGGY Y. LEE

If you're a farmer, you can tell that summer is coming when the days get very long and the squash is ready for picking.

Of the summer squashes, the Italian marrow, more commonly known as zucchini, is perhaps the most famous. Its distinctive green coloring and mild flavor make it a favorite of many cooks.

Zucchini is believed to have originally come from South Africa. It can be grown in most places that have warm weather, including the Ventura County area.

With the recent California crop appearing on the market, the price of zucchini has come down, says James Barker, manager of Underwood Ranch in Somis.

Shoppers in search of zucchini should look for a healthy shine and freshly cut ends, Barker says. But don't judge too much by color. "There are many varieties of green out there."

Zucchini must be harvested very carefully, according to Barker, so as not to damage the squash plant. It is picked while still unripe to assure a soft rind, which should not be peeled off for cooking. Young zucchini, which may still have the corolla--the flower petals--are the most tender.

In addition to being easy to prepare, zucchini is also low in calories and high in nutrients. The vegetable is 95% water, and rich in Vitamin A, with considerable amounts of riboflavin, iron and calcium.

Zucchini and other summer squashes all have sweet, delicate flavors that can be easily overwhelmed by strong seasoning, says Robbie Nichols, manager of the Central Market in Camarillo.

Besides zucchini, Nichols recommends locally grown scalloped summer squash and yellow crookneck squash. "Saute with bacon and onions," she says.

Those looking for something more unusual may want to try kettle chips, a crunchier, thicker kind of potato chip now trucked in from Oregon, says Mark Vanderwier, grocery manager for Mrs. Gooch's in Thousand Oaks.

Vanderwier also reports that Mrs. Gooch's is featuring organic baby food from Vermont and flavored water from the Napa Valley.

Local halibut is still a great local catch, but spot prawns from Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands are diminishing, said Hipolito Marin, manager of Brandon King Seafood in Oxnard.

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